By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator
Laying in a hospital room after a third of his right leg was amputated last October, Caleb Griffin never imagined he would give up rodeo. He might have wondered how long it would take him to get back to competing, but giving up the sport was never an option.
It couldn’t be. At that point, Caleb needed rodeo more than ever.
“When you go through something like that, you have to find something that you love so much that you would do anything to get back to it,” said the 17-year-old Michigan cowboy. “Sure it was tough, but that’s just what you have to do. I was put in a situation where my instincts kicked in. It was fight or flight, and I had to fight.”
A car accident on Oct. 7 left Caleb’s knee a mess. Ligaments were torn and a an artery was severed. That caused a loss of blood flow to the leg, which led to the decision to amputate.
“They told me that I would have to start thinking about it,” says Caleb of the amputation. “Even if they saved it then, I might still have problems down the road. They had a prosthetic doctor come in and talk to me. I was told that it’s so much easier to get a prosthetic when you’re younger. Sure there was some sadness. This isn’t something I wanted to go through. I still have some times when I get down about it a little, but I had to surround myself with good people, friends who will always be there to help push me forward, rather than hold me back.”
If I included Caleb in a lineup of 10 cowboys, chances are you wouldn’t be able to pick out the one with a prosthetic leg. The accident was nine months ago, and thanks to physical therapy Caleb is getting around just fine. He got back on a horse this spring and earned a spot in Rock Springs, Wyo., this week along with team roping partner Tyler Kijac.
The two took a no-time on their first-round steer on Monday night. But if Caleb didn’t let an amputation get him down, he’s certainly not going to lose any sleep over a missed loop.
“Caleb is the most positive person I know,” says Tyler. “I hate to say it, but in a way it’s good something like this happened to him. I knew he wouldn’t quit.”
Before the accident, Caleb rode bulls, wrestled steers, team roped and even competed in tie-down roping from time to time. Since the accident, he’s gotten back to team roping and even ridden a couple of bulls. He’d like to wrestle steers, but the knee just hasn’t recovered enough to hold up to the wear and tear of the event.
“The hardest part about being here at the national finals is not being able to wrestle steers,” Caleb said. “I think that’s my best event, or was my best event. It’s hard because I knew I had a chance to do something there. I think I could have made three good runs and been in the top five with a chance to win it.”
Once again, Tyler jumps in to talk about how positive Caleb is. Caleb can only laugh.
“I don’t look at it like I’m that positive or inspirational,” he says. “People say they wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now. But if you’d told me a year ago that this is where I’d be, I would have said that I wouldn’t be able to do this, too. But rodeo is my life. I haven’t known anything else, or ever wanted anything this bad.
“Going through something like this opens your eyes to all that you have — your family and your friends — and just how important those things are.”
Those family and friends made sure Caleb never spent a day alone in the hospital. Cowboys gathered around his bed on Sunday afternoons to play cards. Along the way, they learned that Caleb is still the same cowboy he was before the accident. Maybe he can’t pass through an airport metal detector anymore, but nothing of importance has really changed.
“Some people think of rodeo as a hobby, but I never really thought of it that way,” Caleb says. “Rodeo is what I do, and nothing’s going to stop me from doing what I love.”